The drought and starvation disaster on SA’s doorstep
Hundreds of thousands in Lesotho don’t know where their next meal will come from – and it could get worse
There’s a disaster looming right next door, and it could leave more than half a million people hungry.
Climate change, drought and the resultant food shortages mean that Lesotho – which is wholly surrounded by SA – faces an enormous crisis. In the Mountain Kingdom 487,857 people are “considered to be food insecure”, according to an assessment by the Lesotho Vulnerability Committee. This is more than double the population of the capital city, Maseru, which is home to 220,000 people.
Lesotho’s Disaster Management Authority shared the results of the committee’s findings at the end of April.
At the heart of the problem was changing rainfall patterns and associated drought, which meant the agricultural season started later than usual. Most crops did not grow as expected, and there was a 21% decline in crop production.
“Additionally, the current drought has impacted main income sources, with a considerable decline in crop and livestock sales,” the authority said.
Most affected were those in rural parts of Lesotho, accounting for 407,191 of the food insecure. Urban residents made up the remaining 80,666 people.
Mohale’s Hoek and Berea (on Lesotho’s western border with the Free State), Quthing (on the southern border with the Eastern Cape) and Mokhotlong were listed as the worst hit.
The authority said helping those affected would require large amounts of grain: “The country is already experiencing a food gap of 25.255 metric tons of grain, which will require a total of $15.6m [just under R221m] to address the food needs of the affected population.”
The situation could get worse. Because of below-average rainfall during crop planting at the end of 2018, and because rivers only started filling up in February, more people could be affected over the next year.
“The government is concerned that food security is expected to deteriorate further from July 2019 to June 2020, with the food-insecure population projected to increase to 640,000,” the authority said. That’s about a quarter of Lesotho’s population of approximately 2.2 million.
“The government of Lesotho is already working with local and international partners to address the needs of all the affected Basotho and mitigate the impacts across the country. To that end, government is exploring options to allocate resources, and counts on the support of its partners,” the authority said.
According to Lesotho’s meteorological service, data shows that the country has been severely affected by climate change.
“Lesotho’s temperatures are increasing; frequency of cold temperatures is decreasing while that of hot temperatures is increasing. Precipitation is becoming more erratic with increasing occurrence of droughts and heavy rainfall,” the service said on its website.
In turn, this was drying up springs and wetlands. The agricultural sector suffered from reduced rainfall and frequent drought, reducing crop production, with high temperatures exacerbating incidences of diseases and pests.
“Resultant crop failures lead to famine and food shortages,” the service said. “Frequent droughts result in lack of water availability and reduced water quality. The resultant disease outbreaks are compounded by famine and malnutrition,” the service said.
‘Complicating’ their survival
Lesotho Red Cross secretary-general Kopano Masilo said people were “already feeling the impact of a failed farming season as there was not much to be eaten from fresh maize”.
“The food security situation needs timely interventions,” said Masilo.
“Some people will only get [affected] worse if no assistance is provided. As of now, any assistance will protect people’s livelihoods.“It’s very important for people to get help before engaging in more desperate coping activities like selling their productive assets for food.”Masilo added that declaring an official emergency “would be able to communicate to the donor community the real situation facing poor people”.“It is important to note that this drought is complicating the survival capacity of people already facing chronic poverty.”